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Statue of Liberty's Crown May Open for the First Time Since Sept. 11

The National Park Service is considering reopening the Statue of Liberty's crown for the first time since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, according to documents a congressman released on Independence Day.

The park service requested bids last month to study what it would take to safely open the iconic headpiece to the public, according to documents released by U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner, a Democrat from New York.

Liberty Island, where the statue is located, was closed after the terrorist attacks. The statue's base, pedestal and lower observation deck reopened in August 2004, after a $20 million effort to enhance fire safety.

But the crown and its interior observation deck, which soar about 265 feet (81 meters) above New York Harbor, remained closed because the Park Service said there was no way to evacuate them safely in an emergency. The narrow spiral staircase that leads up to the crown doesn't comply with fire and building codes.

Visitors are now limited to the statue's 154-foot-tall (47 meters) pedestal.

Weiner, a member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security, helped arrange a Congressional hearing in September on reopening the crown.

He said keeping the observation deck shuttered hurts the city's economy: Since the crown closed, the number of visitors to Lady Liberty has dropped 44 percent, from 3.6 million in 2000 to 2.5 million visitors in 2006.

A park service spokesman did not immediately return a telephone call Friday.

The park service letter, sent to nearly 800 security firms, asks them to prepare plans that address whether the statue can be updated to meet fire safety codes, and, if not, how the park service can minimize safety risks there.

The deadline for submitting proposals is Wednesday, and the plans would be finalized by January 2009, Weiner said. The House recently agreed to provide $1 million to help fund the work; it wasn't immediately clear Friday whether the Senate would do the same.

The crown is the only National Park Service site that hasn't reopened since the Sept. 11 attacks. The park service oversees such sites as the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C., and Mount Rushmore in South Dakota.

A gift from France to the United States, the Statue of Liberty was dedicated in 1886. An inscription on the base, by poet Emma Lazarus, reads: "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"